On February 19th, the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) will gather at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles for their annual Golden Reel Awards ceremony, one of the oldest and most prestigious technical awards competitions in Hollywood. It’s the biggest night of the year for the group as sound editors from the worlds of motion pictures, television, gaming and other media pause to recognize the best work in their field. Handing out awards, however, is only a small part of the MPSE’s mission. The 61-year-old organization is active year-round in a variety of charitable, educational and social activities all aimed at promoting the craft of sound editing and its contribution to the various forms of entertainment.

“The MPSE was founded in 1953 by a group of very talented sound artists who felt that the role of sound in film was underappreciated and poorly understood,” explains Paul Rodriguez, treasurer of the MPSE. “Since then, this organization has been working hard, and in many different ways, to change that perception. And we feel we have been successful, both in promoting a better understanding of the critical role that sound effects, dialogue and music play in cinematic storytelling, and by encouraging a higher level of professionalism and creativity among sound editors.”

Contrary to a popular misconception, the MPSE is not a trade union and does not negotiate labor contracts. Rather, it is an honorary society composed of working sound professionals who donate their time to promote their craft both within the film and television community, and among the public at large. It does so by hosting screenings and other educational events, providing scholarships to aspiring sound professionals and carrying out various charitable activities.

The MPSE’s philanthropic work includes the presentation of an educational scholarship to the winner of its annual Verna Fields Award, a student award presented in conjunction with the Golden Reels. Verna Fields was a sound editor, picture editor (whose credits included Jaws) and longtime studio executive who was an early champion of the craft of sound editing and of women in film. The scholarship is named in honor of Ethel Crutcher, the wife of the late sound editor and MPSE Career Achievement winner Norval D. Crutcher, Jr. and the mother of sound editors Norval D. “Charlie” Crutcher III and Samuel Crutcher. Submissions for the Verna Fields Award come from around the world and involve some of most acclaimed schools for film and television production.

Last year, the award and scholarship went to Axle Kith Cheeng, a student from England’s National Film and Television School, for her work on the animated short Head Over Heels (a 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Animated Short). A citizen of Malaysia, she became the first person from her country to win a major Hollywood prize.

“It is a great honor to receive this award and be recognized by the finest sound and music editing professionals,” Cheeng said upon accepting the honor. “Not everyone understands the importance of sound and music in a film or video because it is designed to be seamless and subtle. If you have the passion and love for it, I believe you can thrive.”

While scholarship winners earn a cash benefit to help with their education, the award’s true value may lie in the prestige associated with winning an honor from a Hollywood-based professional organization. “It looks fabulous on your resume,” says Rodriguez, “and that can help to jump start a career.”

“However, it may not necessarily be as a sound editor,” Rodriguez adds. “It could just as easily be as a writer or director. Our interest is in encouraging a talent for storytelling; we just happen to focus on sound.”

In fact, many Verna Fields Award-winners have gone on to productive careers in sound. Luke Dunn Gielmuda, who won the first Verna Fields Award in 1999, is today a successful sound and Foley editor. With credits that include Monsters University, The Avengers and Avatar, he is a three-time winner of Australian Screen Sound Guild Awards, and won a Golden Reel Award in 2012 as a member of the sound team from Wreck-It Ralph. Sue Harding, who won the award in 2007, has amassed more than 100 credits as a Foley artist, including Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Quantum of Solace, and has four Golden Reel nominations to her name.

MPSE’s outreach also includes an annual celebrity golf tournament. Held in Malibu, the all-day event is designed as an opportunity for sound artists to socialize with their peers outside the confines of their darkened studios. Additionally, it has a charitable component. In the past, the golf tournament has been used to raise funds for such groups as the Inner-City Filmmakers and Save the Children. Last year’s event benefitted the Motion Picture and Television Fund and its retirement community for former film and television workers.

Rodriguez says that while the Golden Reel Awards earns the organization a great deal of attention, it’s the group’s charitable and educational efforts that may have the most lasting impact. “It’s exciting and we hope to do more,” he says. “Recently, we’ve been hosting sound shows, where our members and other filmmakers screen and discuss their latest projects. They have been very popular. So, we are continuing to grow stronger and make headway in our mission to support the craft of sound.”

About MPSE
Founded in 1953, the Motion Picture Sound Editors is a non-profit organization of professional sound and music editors who work in the motion pictures and television industry. The organization’s mission is to provide a wealth of knowledge from award winning professionals to a diverse group of individuals, youth and career professionals alike; mentoring and educating the community about the artistic merit and technical advancements in sound and music editing; providing scholarships for the continuing advancement of motion picture sound in education; and helping to enhance the personal and professional lives of the men and women who practice this unique craft. For further information email MPSE here or visit www.mpse.org.